In our work as Michigan DUI lawyers, one of the most common things we’re asked about is how a DUI can or will affect a person’s job, or professional license status. Of course, everyone’s first concern following a drunk driving arrest is staying out of jail, closely followed by not losing the ability to drive, but in the real world, employment considerations absolutely round out the “Big 3” of DUI worries. While there is no single, simple answer to how a DUI can or will affect someone’s livelihood, the good news is that, by and large – it won’t.
There are, of course, exceptions. Not to be funny about it, but if there weren’t, I could have ended this article with nothing more than the paragraph above. We’ll start with the broadest generalizations first, and work down from there: With few exceptions, a DUI will not cause someone to lose his or her job. In terms of professional licensing, I have never had, nor have I ever even heard of anyone losing their occupational license for a single DUI. That said, anyone who picks up a DUI and who already has or is planning to obtain a professional license in certain fields may have to undergo more scrutiny about what happened than someone in other occupations.
Most jobs in the United States fall within what is called “at will” employment status, meaning that a person can be fired, at any time, for any reason, as long as that reason isn’t any kind of unlawful discrimination. There is a lot to the whole concept of unlawful discrimination, all of which goes beyond the scope of this piece, so we’ll have to leave it at that, and simply understand that a person can’t be fired for reasons like age, race, sex, religious affiliation, et cetera. The larger point is that, absent any such illegal reason, a boss can simply decide to fire a person because he or she doesn’t like them, wants to cut down on payroll, or just feels like it. Nothing else is needed.
On the flip side, “at-will employment” also allows a person to quit a job at any time, and for any reason (like getting a better job), or even for no reason at all.
Thus, if the owner of a company calculates that by firing an employee, he or she will save enough money for an annual vacation to Europe, he or she can do it. By the same token, if an employee decides that he or she wants to move to Europe and leave his or her job, that’s fine, too.
The point here is that anyone employed on an at-will basis can be fired at any time for any non-discriminatory reason, and that includes picking up a DUI (in Michigan, the offense is technically called “OWI,” short for “Operating While Intoxicated“).
In the real world, though, that just does NOT happen.
Before we dig a bit deeper into why that almost never happens, though, let’s quickly look at the other kind of employer-employee relationships, meaning employment that is not “at-will.”
Some people are employed under an employment contract, or otherwise pursuant to specific provisions that, without getting overly technical here, are very much like contractual terms. Although it’s a bit of an over-simplification, if conditions and/or terms of employment are specified in something like an employee handbook, then those terms must generally be followed by both the employee and the employer.
Most employment contracts or employee handbooks don’t cover specific things like DUI’s, but even so, some do obligate an employee to report either an arrest and/or a conviction for a criminal offense, and a DUI is a criminal offense.
And it’s here where we really come face-to-face with when a DUI can cause a problem for those who hold an occupational license. Pretty much EVERY professional license through the Michigan Department of State’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department, or LARA, does require that a person convicted of a DUI report it within a certain (and usually short) period of time.
Indeed, as far as medical licenses go, it’s not surprising that the rules require the person holding the license to report any conviction. However, they also required that both the court and the lawyer representing the license holder report it to LARA, as well.
Similarly, many people employed under a contract, or pursuant to specific employment terms, are also obligated to report a DUI conviction to their employer.
Indeed, in some cases, a person may even be required to report an arrest for a criminal offense.
Anyone charged with a DUI who is under an employment contract (even if it’s a union contract) or who otherwise has an employee handbook or other specified rules of employment would be well served by double-checking his or her obligations to report a criminal arrest or conviction.
This is reality can be a bit painful because although Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a criminal law violation, most DUI offenders are hardly “criminals” in any sense of the word.
Still, as the old saying goes, “It is what it is.”
On our firm website, we go to great lengths to point out that who you are as a person matters in a DUI case, and that your personal accomplishments, including (and often, very specifically) your employment is a huge asset in terms of minimizing the potential legal penalties that can be imposed as a result.
Here’s the payoff to that: most employers know a good person when they have one.
If you’re a good employee, then you probably have nothing to worry about.
In fact, out of the thousands of cases I have handled, I can only recall one time in my entire 30-plus year career where a person lost a job after a DUI, and I truly believe that the client and the employer were already at the point of going their different ways before his arrest, and that the DUI was NOT the reason for their separation.
Let me use a real life case example of how things usually work: Our client was a garbage truck driver, and had been with his company for a long time. He made really good money, as it takes years to work one’s way from being a “loader,” who picks up the trash, to being a driver.
Driving a garbage truck requires that a person have a valid CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), and a conviction for any alcohol-related traffic offense, by law, will automatically result in the suspension of that CDL endorsement.
The client chose to report his DUI to his employer before they found out about it. He told his boss about it early on, before any kind of plea-deal was reached, and his boss was grateful for the heads up. His boss said he’s see what he could do about my client’s job, but the company involved was a large, nationwide corporation, so it wasn’t like the supervisor could just make his own decision about what to do.
In other words, our client’s boss had to run it up the ladder.
The poor guy was understandably worried that nearly 20 year of hard work would go out the window, and that he’d lose his employment. After all, he was going to be unable to drive.
A short time later, he got called into the office, thanked for his loyal service, thanked again for his honesty, and told that he was going to be reassigned so he could keep his employment, keep his pension, and be eligible to go back to driving once his driver’s license suspension had passed.
The lesson here is that if you’re a good employee, your company will almost always work around your situation, particularly if they know it’s a one-off.
Getting a DUI is a pain in the a$$, to be sure, but – especially in a 1st offense case where jail is almost never on the menu anyway – it’s not like you’re going to need to take any kind of leave of absence.
You will, of course, need to take a couple of mornings off to handle court, but aside from that kind of small inconvenience, that’s really about it.
To be sure, if you work as an ambulance or school bus driver, or you otherwise rely entirely on a CDL for your livelihood, then a DUI is going to screw things up, at least to some extent.
If you hold a certain kind of professional license, then your licensing body may be more interested in following up after a DUI conviction: A licensed commercial pilot flying for a major airline is going to have more trouble with a DUI than a tradesperson who is self-employed.
In a similar way, the licensing body may choose to require a person to undergo an evaluation as a condition of being able to work under his or her license, particularly in fields (like medical occupations) where the safety of the public is an issue.
I have to be a bit circumspect here, but we have successfully handled 2nd offense DUI cases for people with various kinds of medical licenses who have worked in just about every capacity you could name, and NONE of them have had their licenses revoked.
This should be really good news for anyone facing a 1st offense….
One thing my team and do see quite regularly – and my goal in this article is to alleviate some of that – is the intense stress and emotional turmoil people experience as they worry about this.
Let me be clear on that point: There is no need to run out and quickly hire some lawyer whose marketing message is all about promising to help save your job, or to make sure you don’t lose your job, or who uses some other ploy to make it seem like their going to look out for you in that regard.
What I’m trying to make abundantly clear is that most of the things you fear won’t come to pass anyway.
A lawyer’s job is to make things better for anyone facing a DUI by avoiding or minimizing as many of the potential legal penalties and negative consequences as possible, and that’s exactly what my team and I do.
However, in reality, most people aren’t in any danger whatsoever of losing their job or their occupational license in the first place, and anyone who says differently is either dangerously ignorant, or resorting to fear-based marketing tactics.
As far as occupational and professional licensing goes, how things are reported to the specific licensing body can sometime have a big impact whether or not anything further will be done.
My team and I use various strategies in dealing with these issues, depending on the circumstances. These include having some of our clients undergo a formal and private substance use evaluation.
Sometimes, we’ll use such an evaluation as part of our plan to handle the DUI charge itself, knowing that, when submitted, it will also positively affect any potential licensing inquiries, while other times, we’ll get an evaluation, NOT as part of any plan to handle the actual DUI case, but rather just as a tool to be used by the client as he or she reports the conviction to the licensing body.
I hate to keep saying things like “there is a lot to this,” but these things are really deep subjects in their own right, so we’ll just have to omit any further analysis about how we use a substance use evaluation in DUI cases when a conviction will need to be reported to LARA other than to reiterate that it must be used strategically (meaning to make things better), depending on things like the facts of the case and the person’s particular occupation.
Here is another question that often comes up in the context of DUI charges: “Will my company (or my boss) find out about this?”
Although the general answer is “no,” the most accurate answer is that it depends.
If your company ever runs a criminal background or driving record check, then yes, they’ll find out about it.
If not, then they won’t, unless you or someone else tells them about this, or you run into your boss at the courthouse (and given how things are being done remotely now, that’s not likely).
To be clear, no one from the court or any associated agency will reach out to your employer.
For all of that, the grand takeaway is that, unless you drive for a living and do so pursuant to a commercial driver’s license (CDL) a single DUI is highly unlikely to affect your job, and will almost certainly NOT result in any kind of loss or suspension of your occupational or professional license, either.
If you’re facing a DUI anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair or Washtenaw County, and you’re looking to hire a lawyer, be a smart consumer and read around. Read how lawyers explain the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by talking to a live person.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.